How to start a lawn from scratch

October 9, 2015

Starting a lawn can be an overwhelming task. It's important to consider what kind of soil you're dealing with, what climate you're in, and what sort of traffic your lawn may see. Here are some helpful tips for starting a thriving lawn from scratch.

How to start a lawn from scratch

Preparing the soil

When you're planting a new lawn area or replacing a section of damaged lawn, it pays to prepare the soil well.

  • Dig up samples of soil from various parts of the proposed lawn area and test it with an over-the-counter kit from a garden centre or send soil samples to a local agricultural college or independent soil-testing laboratory (look in the Yellow Pages under "laboratories").
  • If your soil is infertile, spread a commercial, balanced, granular fertilizer designed for starting lawns, such as a 7-21-7 formulation.
  • If the test shows that the soil is too acidic or alkaline, you'll need to adjust the pH (the level of the soil's acidity or alkalinity).
  • Grass prefers a pH around 7.0, or neutral, the level at which it can take up nutrients most efficiently.
  • To decrease acidity, indicated by a number below 7.0, add garden lime; to decrease alkalinity, indicated by a number above 7.0, add garden sulphur.
  • Apply the amendments according to package directions and work them into the soil before planting. This is also the time to correct soil structure to create a loose, well-drained home for grass roots.
  • In soil that is more than 60 to70 percent clay or sand, spread a five- to eight-centimetre-thick (two- to three-inch-thick) layer of compost or well-rotted manure over the soil and work it in to a depth of 15 centimetres (six inches).
  • Adding compost will also improve fertility and help neutralize the pH of soil.
  • For large areas, you should rent a heavy-duty rototiller to prepare the bed, then rake the surface smooth with the back of an iron rake and tamp it down moderately with your feet or a board.

Planting options

Sod is the fastest way to start a lawn, but it requires careful handling and precision, so if you are covering a large area, it's best left to professionals.

  1. For smaller areas, start on one edge, laying the individual sods like bricks, with the joints alternating.
  2. Work from the freshly laid sod by standing on a plank and laying the new sod in front of the existing row.

Sowing seeds

Sowing seed is the easiest and least expensive way to start a patch of grass or an entire lawn. In warm climates, sow seed in late spring. In cold climates, seeds sown in early fall is most successful, because warm soil, cool nights and plentiful moisture create ideal growing conditions.

You can also plant in early spring, although plants will start more slowly in the cold soil, and you may have to water the young, shallow-rooted plants in summer to keep them strong.

  1. Select a grass species that fits your yard and the kind of traffic it receives, and then purchase fresh, weed-free seed suited for your climate from a reputable garden centre.
  2. Rough up prepared soil by drawing a sturdy metal rake lightly over the surface and sow the seeds evenly by hand or using a drop spreader, according to the rate listed on the package.
  3. Rake the surface gently with a flexible leaf rake so that the seeds make good contact with the soil, then water lightly.
  4. Mist the soil daily as needed to keep the soil moist, which is very important for germination.

You should see a covering of fine-bladed grass seedlings in seven to 14 days. Once the grass reaches eight centimetres (three inches) tall, mow it to five centimetres (two inches).

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